What denizens of Tumblr and AVEN say about each other

The biggest development of asexuality this decade will be the decentralization of the asexual community.  That’s why I watch with fascination the interactions between the two biggest communities right now: AVEN and Tumblr.  I’m given to understand that some disagreements can be bitter and painful, but sometimes I personally find them engrossing.

Here I show a few samples of what people on AVEN and Tumblr say about each other.  I seek not to mock or criticize, but to understand.

I know Tumblr has a pretty healthy asexual community. Not to sound offensive but I prefer it to AVEN, though it does have its problems; for example there’s been a lot of problems with aromantics, demiromantics, and demisexuals lately.
–seen on AVEN

Aven is our foremost visibility network, and has done a great job for many years and continues to be a source of clarity for many.
seen on Tumblr

I’m starting with some nicer statements, of which there are plenty, because not everything is bitter disagreement.  But from here on, I’ll pick more critical comments.

Tumblr does have good a/demi/greysexual and aromantic communities, but as of very recently in the asexual, actuallyasexual, demisexual, etc. tags, some have been spewing massive amounts of asexual elitism.
seen on AVEN

AVEN has a reputation for having issues with [trigger warning] rape culture including pressuring members to have sex that they don’t want (claiming that it’s unfair to ‘deprive’ non-asexual partners), racism, ableism, and anti-aromantic sentiment
seen on Tumblr

I’m just picking short quotes and snippets, but Tumblr people tend to write much longer complaints (perhaps because it’s essentially a blogging medium).  In contrast, most AVENite’s comments go little further than my excerpts.

Considering how the Asexuals on Tumblr drive people off the site for being ‘elitist’ – I don’t think I want anything to do with them.
seen on AVEN

I feel like it’s been a really long time since it was permissible on AVEN to tell someone “quit with your fucking elitism,” or to use the word “fuck” or “fucking” in the title of a post. Anger was regarded as appropriate in response to people on the forum who were being pieces of shit.
seen on Tumblr

Tumblr is by no means a safe place, I’ve seen that post and saw other communities actually agreeing with it. What you could only do is just ignore the user, block the post and in the end of the day, the Internet is not real life.
seen on AVEN

If it were a few sexist, racist, transphobic, ableist things some time ago, then maybe people could accept that AVEN has moved on. But it’s not.
seen on Tumblr

I stay away from the asexuality tag on Tumblr because I can’t see acephobia without confronting it, which then takes up a lot of my time. Once in a while I’ll complain on Tumblr about something going on in an AVEN thread that just annoys me (i.e., isn’t bad enough to report) because I don’t want to derail the thread.
seen on AVEN

They asked me (as I remember); “How are you genderqueer with no gender?”
When I defended myself again, a mod messaged me and told me that if I didn’t “calm down” I would receive a warning for my behaviour.
seen on Tumblr

A common theme in several complaints is that certain people were nasty.  Also, some Tumblr quotes bring up issues with AVEN moderation; Some AVEN quotes implicitly complain about the lack of moderation on Tumblr.  There are also allegations of widespread problematic attitudes.  One AVEN quote accused Tumblr of having elitism, and another quote accused Tumblr of chasing away “elitists”.  Several Tumblr quotes accuse AVEN of handling intersectional identities poorly.

Are things starting to make more sense now?  No?  Well, shucks, I didn’t have anything much better.

I leave the commenters unnamed because it’s not about any particular person (and I imply no criticism of the people making these comments).  However, these are the threads I referenced:


About Siggy

Siggy is an ace activist based in the U.S. He is gay gray-A, and has a Ph.D. in physics. He has another blog where he also talks about math, philosophy, godlessness, and social criticism. His other hobbies include board games and origami.
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19 Responses to What denizens of Tumblr and AVEN say about each other

  1. nextstepcake says:

    I don’t have time to elaborate at the moment, but I think something else that also plays an important role is the difference in formats between the sites, not just the differences in attitudes or individual members – I’ll probably come back with more thoughts on that later.

  2. A lot of the points on both sides are valid. The way non-asexuals are able to invade the tags on tumblr is just… well it just shows how much there is the need for an asexual-themed site where aces can largely converse among other aces largely without non-ace interference.

    I have been very careful about where I go on AVEN, and go there very infrequently, but even so… the racism there is appalling :/ I have to wonder how many of the people claiming there is no race problem on AVEN are white. (That sounds terrible I know, but it’s true.)

    AVEN, in my opinion, completely fails at intersectionality. I can’t say I understand the site’s defendants’ motives in trying to argue otherwise or defend it. It would be more worthwhile to argue that it’s better to have a place that isn’t trying to be very intersectional. After all, AVEN is going to be a lot of people’s first foray into anything related with social justice; therefor, a lower entrance barrier could be considered a good thing, especially if one considers that the majority of aces probably move on from it anyway (gee, wonder if that lack of intersectionality could be one reason they don’t want to stay…) Tumblr, by contrast, is somewhere where you can get the title “Content Warning: Ableism, ableist slurs” for using the word “stupid”.

    I will be glad to see further decentralization, especially if it results in more successful splintering and thus variety in ace spaces.

    • Eponine says:

      Well, I’m not white and don’t really see the race problem on AVEN. Aren’t most discussions irrelevant to race in the first place? Then again, I’m super nonchalant when it comes to racism no matter where…

      • nextstepcake says:

        AVEN does have a race problem…in the way that most of the world has a race problem (especially on the internet). One of the things here is that tumblr has a very strong SJ community that tends to be very hyperaware of noticing and responding to racism, and those expectations don’t pan out in other spaces. A couple other factors I think come into play that make the differences more dramatic as well – first, on tumblr, posts and conversations that deal more with race will not usually have ace tags, and will not be seen as “part of the ace community”; there’s a lot of blatant racism on tumblr but it is seem as an “outside community” problem rather than an “in community problem” whereas on AVEN all topics get gathered together, including ones on race with nothing to do with asexuality, so everything is seen as “in community”.

        Another difference is not necessarily the prevelence of -isms but in how they are responded to – on tumblr many people find it understandably satisfying to cuss out and attempt to drive out of the tags anyone who expresses problematic opinions, but that’s not considered acceptable on AVEN, which is understandably frustrating for them.

      • So you don’t see a race problem with a user, for instance, saying that they have no problem with seeing couples being romantic or sexual, but the sight of a black man and a white woman together makes them want to puke?

        I agree, in many discussions race really isn’t that relevent. That’s why it’s so odd that on AVEN, in a thread about say, consent, an original poster will suddenly seque into a rant about how white people are now the minority, and the real victims of racism.

        Both those are things I have actually seen happen at AVEN.

        I’m not a particularly sensitive person either, quite the opposite, but even so, I can see how many of the things said on AVEN contribute to an enviroment where many PoC don’t feel comfortable.

    • Eponine says:

      Hmm, I don’t remember seeing remarks like that…Maybe the types of threads I usually read are more likely to stay neutral or irrelevant to racial issues. Thanks for your explanation anyway!

  3. L says:

    Yep, AVEN completely fails at intersectionality, and the mods there are, well… not very good at what they do. I was there for about a year and I never saw any sort of meaningful intervention of anything, not to mention that my run-ins with them were often about things they “felt”, and not things they could point to in the site rules (even when I specifically asked). Another thing that personally got my goat about the site was how rigid everyone was and lightheartedness seemed to be frowned upon (as though humor = immaturity = making aces everywhere look bad). Laughing and joking suddenly made me unable to be taken seriously by the very grim-and-proper userbase.

    Blatantly maintaining a monoculture like that is just so horribly detrimental that it boggles the mind. Intersectionality fail plus the enforcement of unspoken non-rules? How is that constructive in any way? Moreover, how is that not creepy as all get-out?

    Tumblr is pretty crappy also, but at least it’s completely decentralized and has a slightly better grasp on race, ability, gender, etc. And pockets where those intersections are thoughtfully explored don’t have to be afraid of some mod coming along and deciding they don’t like what’s being said there.

    • Siggy says:

      Mods are elected democratically, so they just represent the median opinion (allowing for individual noise). I think the Admods determine policies, so policies are made by representative democracy. It’s so easy to say that mods should be doing a better job, but the question is how to implement democratically determined policies that help democratically elected mods do a better job.

      Does Tumblr solve this problem by being an anarchy, or just by drawing from a more intersectionally-conscious population? Actually, some might say that Tumblr has not solved the problem at all; some AVENites were complaining intersectionality on Tumblr too.

      • nextstepcake says:

        Honestly, I see as much racism/ablism/sexism on tumblr; I think it’s just easier to dismiss it there because A. There are no mods expected to fix everything and B. There are also more “outsiders” on tumblr and I feel like sometimes people just assume all the “bad” comments are from them.

      • L says:

        The only thing that would solve my issue with AVEN mods, as far as I can tell, would be to require them to cite broken or near-broken rules when warning people. If this means refining the site rules, then so be it– they’re already enforcing a rigorous sort of etiquette, but I just could never find out where that etiquette is laid down in plain, bulleted, English. I don’t like it when I’m being reprimanded and the person doing the reprimanding can’t even tell me why. Like I said, that sort of governing + intersectionality-fail bothers me a lot.

        And why yes, I happen to think tumblr is a fantastic alternative that has (at least partially) solved these issues by, again, being decentralized. Sexual orientations don’t, to my knowledge, need a governing body, or democratically-elected gatekeepers to bestow legitimacy. And if people are being -ist and -phobic, then there needs to be room for offended parties to get mad as hell.

        I’m not saying that AVEN is completely obsolete and is a detrimental institution (even though it very much is an institution), I’m saying that tumblr is getting some things right and that AVEN isn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, representative of all aces everywhere, not does it even begin to meet the needs of many of us.

      • L says:

        ETA: I’m actually of the opinion that trying to gather up a unified front, or present as such, oftentimes leads to missing the forest for the trees. I don’t want one community of aces, I want many. I want anarchy, because at the end of the day we are all different people with different lives and histories and wants and needs and the only thing that unites us is our asexuality. And frankly, I don’t think orientation is much in the way of foundation for community at all. It needs more than that, and that’s why we need to start embracing the idea of smaller, more cohesive groups that cater to more specific needs.

        • nextstepcake says:

          I actually agree with you there, at least about needing more communities – there are some things I prefer about AVEN, there are other things I much prefer about tumblr. And I think they also serve different groups of people as well. There are people on AVEN who are extremely uncomfortable on AVEN, and there are people on tumblr who are extremely uncomfortable on tumblr. There are are other people who don’t even like either. And ideally I’d like to see there be options for all of these people.

          And as much as I do like AVEN, having a single group to represent an entire sexuality is just plain weird. It happened that way because for so many years the ace community was so small and obscure that the only way people ever found it was through AVEN, but that’s no longer true at all, so I actually like seeing the proliferation of different asexual community spaces (even if I may not always like them all).

          Still, I don’t think that means that alternative specific communities are the only way to go – I know that a lot of people overlook this but one of the things about AVEN provides that tumblr cannot is that very institutional structure that some people are looking for. For example, when you have media people looking for interviews, or new aces or allies looking for basic information, or lgbtqia groups looking for resources they can use, when researchers need help collecting data, etc. institutions like AVEN can gather and centralize that information and be a starting point for contact; they also help in providing a unified front for things that need it, like when trying to approach politicians or activists for related causes, or running visibility campaigns or doing fundraising or anything else along those lines, much of which is done completely apart from the activity that goes on in the forums. The forums get a lot of flack but they’re only one aspect of what AVEN as an institution does.

          That is, though, another role that I still do think we need more people/orgs to fill, but that decentralized social communities like Tumblr alone can’t solve – so far we have Asexual Awareness Week in addition to AVEN, and to some extent the Asexuality Archive? (not sure how active they are). But that’s still not a lot. And both are still very general; having active organized groups to work for/with specific populations of asexuals (PoC, aromatics, whatever), or to focus on specific areas (reaching out to mental health professionals, supporting ace student groups, etc) is a point of growth that I think we could really use but are still waiting for.

  4. Aydan says:

    It’s a bit concerning to see people mentioning the asexual elitism on Tumblr, because not all, but some, of what’s happened recently has been caused by trolls. I wouldn’t want to see trolls further fracture the asexual population.

  5. Demi Gray says:

    I literally saw a pointed poll on AVEN once where a mod was accusing people of being oversensitive for needing rape/sexual assault trigger warnings. AVEN is a good starting off point, but I’m glad I found my way to Tumblr. Even if Tumblr is oversensitive at times, this sensitivity often comes from a place of actual caring, which I think is better than the alternate. The other nice thing about Tumblr is that it tends to be self-regulating—if someone posts in the ace tags with something elitist or acephobic, people will notice and call them out.

    Also FWIW, on my Google Analytics, I notice that very few of my hits come from AVEN (I have a link to my Tumblr in my sig) even when I used to post fairly often.

    • Siggy says:

      My impression is that AVEN is very self-critical as well, but the criticism cuts both ways. Some AVENites complain about elitism, others complain that there isn’t enough identity policing. It cuts both ways on Tumblr too, except we think of the elitists as being “outsiders” who are just trolling the ace tag, and not insiders exercising self-criticism.

      It’s also my impression that AVENites tend to ignore the wider ace internet.

  6. Tom says:

    Are we speaking about ThaHoward? I know he is a white pride Scandinavian/German supremacy advertiser.

    I’ve been a member on Aven for 5 years and only bumped into 2 jackasses so far, this Howard guy being the only one I ever saw being flat out racist. That’s the only scandal I’ve ever seen there, that the mods did not banish his ass yet. I believe you when you bring up having seen racists comments, but I would love to ask… Where did you see them exactly and who made them? From my personal experience only, Aven is very international and supporting of nonbinary gender.

    • Siggy says:

      I have honestly never heard of ThaHoward. Note that I and many of the people in this thread have participated in AVEN in different time periods, and probably didn’t even read the same parts.

      Also, part of the problem is that people only recognize racism if it comes in extreme forms, such as white supremacists. It’s far more typical for people to express “color-blind” views, where they insist that they don’t see race and it’s not worth talking about. See the second question in this interview.

  7. Tom says:

    I see your point. You are right, all of us have visited the site at different times. So far, I enjoyed the Aven. I have what they call a “migration background” and am highly sensitive to racism. When I see it, I will definitely make sure to leave a loud response!

    Can you recommend other sites for asexuals to gather, apart from tumblr?

    • Siggy says:

      Aside from AVEN and Tumblr, there’s a LiveJournal community, a Reddit community, Acebook, and lots of Facebook groups (many listed here). I cannot vouch for the goodness of any of these communities, not even Tumblr. AVEN is probably one of the most international, actually, among English communities.

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